This time of year there are explosions early in the morning or late in the evening around Oklahoma waters. These explosions are not pyrotechnics or 4th of July M-80s, they are bass blowing up food sources at the water surface.
“Anglers who put away topwaters after spring may be missing an opportunity to turn summer’s ‘dog days’ into ‘hawg days,’” said legendary bass angler and TV fishing show star, Hank Parker. “You’ll rarely see me this time of year without at least one topwater within reach.”
Nothing says summertime bass fishing than working a top-water strike. Every angler, regardless of age or experience, has a rush of adrenaline when a big old large-mouth rolls up on a top water artificial lure.
Really little has changed in the last 20 years when it comes to coaxing a bass to attack a bait fished on top of the water, so let’s look at what’s out there and you probably have some of these in your tackle box now.
I recently watched an entire episode of the Bassmasters with Ish Monroe, the 9-time BASS tournament winner, who has won more than $2.2 million on the tour. The California angler was demonstrating one of his favorite fishing techniques – top-water.
Monroe still lists top-water as one of his favorite types of fishing, and nothing has the thrill of a big old bass busting on a topper! Monroe and some of his friends offer some of the tips he has picked up over their careers throwing chuggers, walkers, buzzers and other top water favorites.
Line — Monroe has some thoughts on line. He believes that monofilament has too much stretch and fluorocarbon sinks. Both of those traits mess up topwater lure performance. It’s hard to get the right twitch or get a good hookset when most of the energy from the snap of your rod is absorbed by the line, and why do you want the nose of your lure pulled down by line that’s sinking? Topwater lures are supposed to be on top.
The line you should use — the only line you should ever use — is braid. It has no stretch and it floats. That does away with the shortcomings of the other two types of line.
Hard plastics — When Heddon introduced the Zara Spook, a very plain looking, cigar shaped piece of plastic with no lips, or other noticeable features, I’m sure anglers were not very impressed. Just looking at a Spook, you would think that no respectable bass would ever mistake it for something good to eat, but once tied on and casted out, this little formless chunk of plastic comes alive.
“I’ve seen bass in clear water attack a Spook from water as deep as 13-feet,” said Parker.
Anglers fishing spooks usually let the ripples settle before giving the lure a little twitch. Little twitches produce an incredible action that anglers describe as “walking the dog” a back and forth flutter and darting motion that looks very similar to an injured bait fish. Bass cannot resist it.
Pop-r by Rebel, and all of the knock-offs, on the other hand looks like a tasty morsel, except for the dual treble hooks of course. Pop-r comes in various sizes and colors, but the basic effect is the same, a concave front “mouth” with the eye for attaching line serves as a dish that “pops” the water when twitched. The popping or gurgling sound that bass will absolutely destroy! My favorite Pop-r type bait is actually the Storm Rattlin Chugbug. I had a buddy that worked for Storm and he turned me on to these top water baits that not only chug but have rattles inside them.
Monroe’s take on speed and cadence of a topwater — you don’t fish a buzzbait at the same speed every time out. You don’t walk a bait at the same speed every time out. You don’t fish a popper the same way every time out. Is one particular topwater lure all that different?
When the topwater bite is on it can be very speed and action sensitive. I’ve seen days when crawling a buzzbait as slow as possible will kill ‘em, and I’ve seen days when you can’t reel one too fast. The same thing can be said of every topwater lure in my boat. I fish them different ways and at different speeds until I find what’s attracting the bass during the day and at the hour I’m fishing. After that I keep doing the same thing until it stops working.
Stick baits come in many shapes and sizes too. The most famous manufacturer of these types of hard plastic baits is Rapala. Sometimes called jerkbaits, these baits are longer and more fishlike in appearance than a spook. Some are lipless while some have small clear lips that make the bait dive under the water when twitched. Twitching, followed by letting the action pause, tempts even wary bass into investigating.
Propbaits are a modified version of the stick or spook bait with small propellers either at the head or tail, or sometimes both. The idea, and response from hungry bass is similar to other hard plastics, make a commotion to attract aggressive bass. The propellers churn when twitched making that gurgle or pop to attract bass.
Buzzbaits – to be honest a buzzbait looks like nothing found on a bass’ menu, but they may be the most effective top water lure ever invented. A variation of the spinner bait, with a weighted head and silicone skirt on bottom and a shiny or colored blade on top, these baits create flash, noise and buzz when retrieved quickly across the surface of the water. There are many varieties of buzzbaits on the market, with different blade makeups, but the old fashion single blade still has a place.
“You don’t fish a buzzbait at the same speed every time out,” Monroe says. “You fish any topwater lure, or any other lure for that matter, at the speed that produces the most bites on the day you’re fishing. No angler, regardless of how much experience he or she has, can tell you how to fish one unless they’re in the boat with you when you’re fishing. There’s no good or bad way to fish any lure unless it’s catching them (good) or not catching them (bad).”
Zel Rowland, famous for his ability to catch bass on topwater in just about any condtion, adjusts the blades to maximize impacts at various speeds. Cupping them inward helps the blades grab more water so it works effectively at a snail’s crawl; opening the blades up reduces water resistance when he wants to burn his buzzbait.
Many anglers use buzzbaits as locator baits, and since they are relatively weed free, they can be thrown in places a bait with an exposed treble hook cannot, a worm or other slower retrieved lure can be used if a fish short strikes the original buzz presentation.
Spinner baits can be effective at times using them with a similar retrieve, quickly ripping the bait just under the surface, occasionally even breaking the surface to create a little noise.
Soft baits – the soft plastic variety of top waters range from baits that imitate worms, frogs, snakes and even mice, but they all have similar purpose – to imitate food. While buzz baits and some of the hard plastic baits try to entice a reaction attack from a largemouth, soft plastics mostly play to a bass’ diet.
Soft frogs are the most common type of soft plastic, and they come in a number of different styles and looks. From hollow bodies with hooks that lie close to the sides of the body, to solid injections that can be rigged with a worm hook, and made almost totally weedless, soft frogs are great for targeting bass that hold up in the thickest cover of downed brush, weeds or lilly pads. Pitching to a hole in a weed bed or landing a frog on a lilly pad and twitching to create a little vibration in the water can be very effective, especially later in the summer.
“Frogs work in places that other topwaters don’t,” said Monroe. “Hollow-body frogs can call giants out of the nastiest cover, but learning to give a fish enough time to compress the lures body before hook setting take practice, patience, and willpower.”
Monroe has his own line of frogs called Phat Matt Daddy Frogs, made to fish over the thickest and nastiest vegetation.
The original Slug-Go by Lunker City lures looks like a silhouette of, well, really nothing. Blunt a one end and tapered at the other, and no eyes, spots or any other markings, the Slug-Go is just a piece of soft plastic. But when a worm hook is buried in the head and pushed back through the body (making the lure nearly weedless) the soft stick bait takes on a life of its own. Every little twitch, especially when used with a spinning reel and light line makes this bait duck, dive, dart and resemble a dying bait or game fish. And bass cannot resist!
Soft topwaters are perfect for using with kids or when fishing lots of heavy cover, because they are very inexpensive. Losing one does not sting like losing a five-dollar hard plastic. There are lots of different sizes and colors too, making them easy to explore and find what fish prefer.
Other soft plastics can be very effective fished on top too, lizards, tubes and even crawfish soft baits can be worked over structure or weed holes and entice hungry bass.
Topwater Tips – here are some tips from Monroe that will help you improve your topwater fishing action:
· Forget the watch — sunrise and sunset are the usual times anglers think about topwater, but don’t be afraid to try buzzbaits or others throughout the day.
· Fish the cover – weed lines, breaks in a bank or outcropping of rocks, any area that might provide cover for a bass are perfect for topwaters.
· One, two three strikes – when a fish strikes at a topwater, but misses, give him a second, or third chance, even with a different type of top water, for example, if a fish misses a buzzbait, but the second chance produces nothing, toss a Slug-Go or other soft bait and give him a little different look.
· Slow the reflex – the old rule is to wait to set the hook on a topwater until you feel the fish, that is nearly impossible when a big fish explodes out of the water, but Monroe says the hardest thing to do when fishing topwater is to wait a count before setting the hook.
Final thoughts – “Don’t let yourself get held back by myths and old wives’ tales,” Says Monroe. “Do what works and take advantage of some spectacular bass fishing this fall. The excitement of a head shake and a tailwalk is something every angler should experience. That’s what it’s all about.”
Six Heat Hacks to stay safe this summer
Heat is the number one cause for summer medical calls at Texas Parks. The soaring temperatures and exertion of park visitors can sometimes be a lethal combination.
Texas Parks and Wildlife offers these six “hacks” to help make your summertime fun less heat dangerous:
1. Hydrate- It’s important to drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour in the heat to replenish your body and prevent dehydration. Don’t forget to bring enough for your four-legged family members too.
2. Block the Rays- Apply a generous amount of sunscreen or sunblock before heading outdoors. Be sure to reapply every couple of hours, and after swimming or sweating.
3. Dress Smart- Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing; a hat, correct shoes, sunscreen and wet bandanas to keep you cool while in the sun. For pets, protect paws against blistering by hitting the trails during cooler times of the day when the ground isn’t hot or by putting booties on pets to help shield paws from the hot ground. Touch the pavement or ground with the back of your hand. If you cannot hold it there for five seconds, the surface is too hot for your dog’s paws.
4. Stay Salty- Food helps keep up energy and replace salt lost from sweating. Eating snacks such as jerky, granola, trail mix, tuna and dried fruit is a fantastic way to nourish your body while on the trails.
5. Buddy System- Two brains are better than one. It’s beneficial to have someone with you in hot conditions so you can look after each other on the trail. With high temperatures hitting Texas, heat-related illnesses are common and having a friend around to help recognize the early symptoms can save you from getting sick.
6. Plan Ahead- Study the map and have it with you. Average hikers move at 2 miles per hour, so allow yourself plenty of time to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. Make sure to rest in a cool or shaded area to recover from the heat if necessary. It is also a good idea to let someone know your plan before you hit the trails and what time you should be back. That way, if you become lost, people know where to look.
Southwest Fishing Report
Altus-Lugert: Elevation below normal, water mid-70s and clear. For current elevation conditions go to the US Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/ALTU.lakepage.html. Channel catfish good on cut bait, minnows, stinkbait and worms below the dam, along flats, river channel and river mouth. Crappie and white bass fair on jigs and minnows around brush structure, docks and rocks. Report submitted by Brandon Lehrman, game warden stationed in Greer County.
Ellsworth: Elevation above normal, water 70s and murky. For current elevation conditions go to the US Geological Survey website at https://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?07308990. Blue and channel catfish fair on cut bait, shad and punch bait in the main lake and around points. Saugeye good trolling crankbaits and plastic baits in 6-10 ft. of water. Report submitted by Mike Carroll, game warden stationed in Comanche County.
Ft. Cobb: Elevation normal, water clear. For current elevation conditions go to the US Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/FCOB.lakepage.html. Striped bass hybrids fair on topwater lures around points. Report submitted by Brayden Hicks, game warden stationed in Caddo County.
Lawtonka: Elevation above normal, water 71 and clear. For current elevation conditions go to the US Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/webdata/gagedata/LTKO2.current.html. Crappie slow on jigs and minnows around brush structure and docks. Blue catfish fair on chicken liver and dough bait along channels, points and rocks. Report submitted by Mike Carroll, game warden stationed in Comanche County.
Tom Steed: Elevation normal, water 76. For current elevation conditions go to the US Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/TOMS.lakepage.html. White bass, striped bass hybrids and saugeye good trolling crankbaits in the main lake and around points. Blue and channel catfish fair on cut bait, punch bait and stinkbait along flats and points. Report submitted by David Smith, game warden stationed in Kiowa County.
Waurika: Elevation above normal, water low 80s and murky. For current elevation conditions go to the US Army Corps of Engineers website at https://www.swt-wc.usace.army.mil/WAUR.lakepage.html. Blue and channel catfish good on chicken liver and cut bait along channels and main lake. Striped bass hybrids and white bass fair on cut bait, sassy shad and shad along channels, dam and main lake.